YouTube: India’s Next Big Opportunity And Next Big Worry

by Tushar Gupta - Sep 5, 2018 04:03 PM +05:30 IST
YouTube: India’s Next Big Opportunity And Next Big WorryThe YouTube logo.  (Chris McGrath/GettyImages)
  • From on-demand cab companies to European electrical appliance producers, and from private universities to emerging retail groups, every brand is looking to cash in on the growth of YouTube.

If the YouTube subscribers of Indian media conglomerate T-Series were to form a country in September 2018, it would be the 23rd biggest nation in the world.

By population, the subscriber count of T-Series can encompass Italy, South Africa, Myanmar, South Korea and Spain separately. Out of the 58 countries in the continent of Africa, only four nations – Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have a greater number of people than the T-Series subscriber count. Also, only five countries in Europe have more people than currently subscribed to T-Series on YouTube.

When it comes to content creators, this Indian entertainment company is second to PewDiePie with a subscriber gap of a little over 5 million. At its current subscriber growth rate, T-Series may surpass PewDiePie before Diwali this year.

Given the industry T-Series comes from, numbers of artists from the same industry must be taken into account. Leading performers like Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and One Direction have less than two-thirds the subscribers of T-Series.

While it can be argued that T-Series is an exceptional case, its rapid growth does reflect the growth of YouTube as a media consumption platform in India. Many uploads from the channel (mostly song videos) garner in excess of a hundred million views.

Interestingly, T-Series, in the last few years has inculcated the media interests of people across the country. The most played video on the channel is a song by a singer from Punjab, Guru Randhawa, with 575 million views, second to a Salman Khan song with 580 million. A Bollywood remix released recently garnered in excess of 25 million views in less than 24 hours without the presence of any big Bollywood dancer or star.

YouTube in India, however, is much more than T-Series and other media and music companies. With an estimated 225 million viewers in India, the music and media company attracts only one-fifth of the audience.

When YouTube made a debut in India in 2008, it had an audience that constituted only 3.5 per cent of the total population. Today, in 2018, the percentage has increased to roughly 20 per cent. By 2020, the percentage is expected to touch 40 per cent. By 2022, it is projected to hit 50 per cent, and by 2025, three in every four Indians will have access to YouTube. The next phase of audience growth in India is set to be exponential with greater pace.

Content creators, both independent and organised, are also on the rise in India. In 2014, YouTube India had only 16 channels with more than 1 million subscribers. Today, the number of such channels exceeds 300. The creators include producers of web-series, parody and satire videos, news and media channels, independent movie groups, regional and local communities, low-grade movie channels, documentary producers, and recently, retail groups. Thus, the growth of YouTube is unhindered by any industry.

Contrary to popular opinion, the majority viewership on YouTube comes outside the six largest cities in India. Over 90 per cent of the viewership time comes from regional content. Between 2017 and 2018, the daily viewership doubled, given the greater internet accessibility on smartphones due to the emergence of Reliance Jio.

Advertisers are also having a ball on YouTube. According to the chief business officer of YouTube, more than 90 per cent of the ads running on the platform are being watched. Using available metrics from YouTube and compiling them with their findings, business groups now see greater incentives in investing in YouTube advertising.

For instance, one of the leading private universities in the National Captial Region collaborated with a web-series creator for a short story about three girls pursuing engineering. The series was an instant hit, garnering more than 18 million views. Another French group producing accessories for digital infrastructure recently concluded a five-episode web series about a couple living in Mumbai. Last year, a condom brand launched its web series about a couple struggling in the early months of marriage.

From on-demand cab companies to European electrical appliance producers, and from private universities to emerging retail groups, every brand is looking to cash in on the growth of YouTube.

Media, on both sides of the political spectrum, is not alien to this phenomenon either. While digital publishers have been on the rise since 2012, only recently have many of them started experimenting with YouTube. Morning and evening briefings, explainers, podcasts and town hall discussions are now beginning to replace the good old opinion pages of newspapers. While there is no immediate threat to the world of print and online textual publishing, an underlying transformation is ongoing in the way Indians consume news online.

YouTube, in a public admission earlier this year, stated that it was only getting started in India, and rightfully so. For a video platform with the most friendly interface, engaging 225 million users in a nation of 1,300 million people is a story of opportunity than success. The 2020s will see the transformation in media consumption move from text to video with the content creator count hitting 100,000 sometime around 2025. In terms of market size alone, India would be bigger than Europe and the United States put together.

With great market size, comes a great opportunity for the business groups, but also comes a great headache for the government in power, be it any. In the years to come, a single video upload would be able to garner anywhere between 600-900 million viewers in the first 24 hours. While this may amount to better revenues and exposure for creators, artists and producers, it does also lead to some other questions.

What if a video, with its creation motivated by social, political, regional, or communal reasons and doctored to present a certain perspective, hits the 200 million mark before it’s taken down by the regulators on YouTube? How much damage can a doctored video of riots between any two sects, circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in a certain region, cause before the authorities can step in?

The answer to these questions is not in censoring content on YouTube, for that would be against the spirit of the internet and our Constitution. However, for a platform that ensures access to a combined population greater than that of Europe and the United States, certain regulations must be inevitable.

Firstly, YouTube can no longer call itself a content distributor. Yes, YouTube does not own or create the content on its platform, but given the numbers in question, the distributor must take a stock of the creators it hosts on its platform. From October to December, in 2017, YouTube took down over eight million videos with the help of machine learning. More than 50 per cent of these videos were taken down before they had attracted over 10 viewers.

Going forward, YouTube must start rating its content creators. These ratings should be independent of the region these creators represent, their ethnicity, their political inclinations and their opinion. However, the ratings can be based on the authenticity of the content shared, the impact it creates (to curb extremism), the audience it attracts (to have content segmented by age groups), and other improvised factors.

The idea must not be to censor or police any content that is uploaded. For instance, creators must not be fined for doing a parody on the ruling government, but the channel or creator must be rated for first-time viewers to have an idea of what they are consuming. With thousands of creators and millions of viewers, segmentation by ratings and recommended age groups can lead to some responsibility on the part of both the creator and the distributor.

The Indian government, recently found losing its cool on the fake news circulated on WhatsApp, must get ahead of this problem and connect with Alphabet Inc, YouTube and Google’s parent company to work towards a solution for the future.

While the Indian online market size may come across as a problem of the future, investing in solutions right now could lead to better outcomes. Distributors of any kind, be it WhatsApp or in this case, YouTube, can no longer shy away from responsibility, and they must act to make their own platform a safer place before the governments start doing it.

This story of opportunity must not be lost to the issue of fake news and narratives.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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